Message from the Dean
John M. Staudenmaier, S.J.,
The Highlighter & Laureate,
John M. Staudenmaier, S.J., Ph.D. teaches
the history of America, Detroit, technology, advertising, labor and capitalism.
Currently, he is studying Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. Staudenmaier
is author of Technology's Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric,
as well as articles and book reviews in his field of study. He is also
editor of Technology
& Culture. He has held numerous scholarly appointments, most recently
the Gasson Chair at Boston College. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from
St. Louis University and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
page is here.
I began thinking about “the Holy Dark”
Years ago while teaching history of U. S. technology here at the University,
I developed an “1880 to the present” survey course. To set
up the historical and technical material, I asked students to imagine
the technology as a peculiar choice made by a peculiar human culture.
“Why would anyone think it is a good idea to invest in ... (railroads
c. 1880, clocks, electricity, nuclear weapons, etc)?” From those
discussions emerged a powerful question about 24-hour access to bright
light. Why would anyone want to lose what night time always brought to
people—a time when most work was more or less impossible, a time
for contemplation and intimacy and ... SLEEP!
Response in class was so interesting, that I got more interested. Eventually,
the “holy dark” grew to be the core of a lecture I then began
to give for different occasions. It’s since been published in a
book of conference presentations as “Denying the Holy Dark: The
Enlightenment Ideal and the European Mystical Tradition,” in Leo
Marx and Bruce Mazlish eds. Progress: Fact or Illusion?
In 1999, I was interviewed about “the holy dark” concept
for the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus newsletter. Below are
brief excerpts. One explains the concept of “the holy dark”,
and the other explains how we all can embrace the holy dark in our own
the full article, click here.
Excerpt: "The Holy
Dark is what I call a part of the day that every generation in human history
experienced until the early part of this century, at which time the advent
of electric lights changed our world,” Fr. Staudenmaier says. “Until
then, when darkness came, we ceased our daily strategic work (business
and other activities that fill the hours of natural light). We experienced
a whole frame of time for non-strategic activities.”
These activities included such things as prayer, rest, reflection, storytelling,
and other events conducted alone, in couples, or in small groups.
“We had time for these things. We enjoyed that time. It was an
essential part of our lives that helped us in the forming of our selves
and our relationships,” he says.
Three ways to make time for the Holy Dark
Rebuilding a piece of the Holy Dark in your life can be enjoyable and
enlightening. Here are three suggestions from Fr. John Staudenmaier, S.J.
for getting started.
- Set aside time for unimportant storytelling. People starve to be
heard and hear others on simple levels. If you come home from work and
tell your family you’ve got four months to live, that’s
an important story and chances are you’ll get heard. But unimportant
stories, like the one about the jerk who cut you off on the freeway,
need to get told too. However, due to the pace at which we live, they
usually go untold. By setting aside time for unimportant stories, we
effectively alter the pace of the day. In that specified time, nothing
interrupts you and the people important to you from telling unimportant
stories - no electronic interruptions of any kind, no planning sessions,
and no analysis. Time is for storytelling and storytelling only.
- Fast from electricity. This is not as radical as it sounds. Just
as you might fast from an evening meal, give up electricity for a night.
Don’t go out. Have people over, if you want, but no electric lights,
phone calls, computers, or other electrical devices. Leave your thermostat
on, of course, and don’t unplug your refrigerator, but no fair
opening the door and reading by the light either. What happens is you
stick together because it’s no fun to be alone in the dark. What
can you do in the dim light of a candle or two? You can have a really
playful, receptive, restful night. You can tell stories. You can sing.
You can eat and drink. You can play games. You tend to go to bed earlier,
and you’re more relaxed when you do because you haven’t
been hyped up by all the electronic components in your life. So, you
sleep better. I would add a little time prior to sleep for contemplative,
reflective prayer, which is simply a variant of storytelling and listening.
In prayer you permit the stories of your life to get said at whatever
pace they emerge in a frame that is sacred and present.
- Be open to grief and surprises. Grief is a slippery place for westerners,
because it is not a strategic act with a clear purpose. We are educated
to believe that strategic is the real adult mode. In times of grief,
such as a lost marriage or a death, the tendency is to slide into analysis
or strategic questions geared toward shedding the grief. Instead, take
time to stay in sorrow when it is warranted. If you’re going to
love, you have to grieve. Otherwise you will cheat on the loving to
protect yourself from sorrow. We often will employ a wall of downfield
blockers to protect ourselves against sorrows and future disappointments
at various levels. Don’t toss the scout motto completely. Car
and health insurance, for example, are not bad things. However, trying
to arrange the future in order to be prepared in advance for every detail
or possible outcome can be enormously exhausting and time consuming.
It’s terrible for personal relationships and pretty bad for your
prayer life too.
of Detroit Mercy. UDM Mission
4001 W. McNichols Rd., PO Box 19900, Detroit, MI 48219-0900